When I was a kid, we lived with my Uncle Ted on a dairy farm in the lush marshlands of central Minnesota. How we got to live on Ted’s farm is an unlikely story in and of itself, but worthy of a tangent. You see, my Dad at the time (who interestingly was not a farmer but worked at a refrigerator plant) was a largely unsuccessful poker player, meaning that we didn’t own a home but rented vacant farmhouses from local farmers with foreign sounding names. Normally we stayed at each home an average of eighteen months before back rent caught up to us and we were forced once again to move. Fortunately, we never moved more than three miles in any direction so I didn’t have to change schools, but I’m sure I was traumatized anyway (at least, my Mom says I was.)

In any case, at one point we ended up at my Uncle Ted’s house which, from my perspective at the time, was a veritable mansion. It had a real working indoor toilet (little things meant a lot back then) and other luxuries like heat and running water. Located in the midst of a virtual oasis of apple trees and acres of grassy, snake-infested lawn, it was way cool.

Unlike most farmer’s we rented from, this was Ted’s only farmhouse and so he lived with us too. This also was way cool, as Ted (my Grandma’s brother) was a lot of fun (in a spooky sort of way.) When I first met him about thirty five years ago, he looked to be about seventy years old. Today, he looks about seventy-five (it’s a genetic thing—trust me.) He was also uniquely funny for a farmer (which are not normally thought of as funny people) if you consider being chased by a man waving the severed head of a recently butchered pig to be funny. He did other funny things too, all of which we found amusing and frequently frightening.

One day my brother Bruce and I hit upon a way to amuse Uncle Ted. Bruce had a bizarre penchant for digging around the yard (often in the effort to set traps for our vicious dog, Duchess) and on one lucky occasion he stumbled upon the skeletal remains of Uncle Ted’s deceased bird dog Rusty (dead pets were usually wrapped in a blanket and buried behind the chicken coop back then, which explains why one had to be careful about where one dug.) I don’t remember how Rusty died; either he was found one morning curled up dead under the porch or was run over by a tractor. It doesn’t really matter, though, as that was how all farm pets met their demise. It was just the "way of things," Uncle Ted mysteriously explained.

Anyway, Bruce thought it would be neat to wire the skeletal remains of Rusty back together and set it on the porch so Ted could see it when he came home that night. Surely he couldn’t help but be amused by the spectacle of his dead pet standing on the porch pining for its master’s return, Bruce and I reasoned, and so we got to work with chicken wire and clothes hangers putting Rusty back together again. It took some effort, but we finally got all the parts in some reasonable order. Bruce even added a nice touch by laying the rotted collar with Rusty’s name etched into it around the neck. I always thought he had the soul of a poet.

What we didn’t know was that Ted had 1.) poor night vision, 2.) an innate fear of cadavers, and 3.) a weak heart. It proved to be an unfortunate combination.

Uncle Ted came back from the hospital a wiser man, however. Never again did he chase us with severed animal parts. In fact, the experience seemed to take some of the "spark" out of the old man, who from then on he just sat quietly in his room murmuring to himself, demonstrating once again the time-tried adage that one shouldn’t play with dead things.